Holding on to your hope and optimism in the midst of short term setbacks
The decision to move to the other side of the world wasn’t a difficult one for me and my husband. He felt that he had achieved what he would have liked to achieve in his career in India and was ready to take a new big step. As for me, my interest in emerging technology for the future of cities drew me to the global tech centers. It was a fine decision also well supported by our families and so we packed up our lives to move to an exciting new adventure. We arrived in Toronto in March 2019, bright eyed and confident that we were prepared for the initial struggle that we might be faced with in a new professional setting. This isn’t the first time we had built a life from the ground up in a new city, nor the first time our lofty goals demanded a grinding pace. Our drive to learn new things, explore new ways of living, and connect with new people had taken us across many places; and in the 30 years of our life, each of us had lived in at least 5 different cities and 3 different countries. We felt that we were seasoned at moulding ourselves to keep growing and fulfill our vision for the future, both individual and shared. However, this move has turned out to be different than any other so far and experiences in the last one and a half years have motivated me to share some of the reflections on, ‘how does one hold on to their hope and optimism in the midst of short term setbacks?’
Life in Toronto has been both exciting and challenging in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Immediately after we arrived, we found an apartment in the heart of the city and the edge of core Downtown, in a vibrant neighborhood popular as the art and design district of the city. The apartment was small but since we didn’t want to own a car, the neighborhood was perfect in terms of connectivity via the robust public transport system. Cherry on the cake, the presence of small businesses fostered a sense of community. Also within 4 days of our arrival, I got accepted at Carnegie Mellon University in the US and decided to take up the admission offer while my husband was to stay put in Toronto. This timing wasn’t coincidental of course! I had started on my ambitious goals related to this transition much before we moved through a carefully articulated plan, which is what makes me ME. However, my husband had a much more organic, compassionate and softer approach to things, qualities that make him HIM! His job as an Investment Analyst for Emerging Markets had involved making investment recommendations for millions of dollars taking into account the economy, regulations, trends, technology advancement etc., but he saw this move as an opportunity to understand economic opportunity from a radically different perspective. He wanted to deeply understand the affordances and quality of life at different levels of the economic pyramid. His humility inspired him to take a bold stance, one which I could never take personally, and he picked up a job as a prep cook at a Chinese restaurant. He began working crazy hours making minimum wage and living a life that he’d never experienced before. Although, I must mention that this wasn’t the first time he had done something so gallant yet empathetic! In 2013, he had agreed to undertake a project in a small town in India in the infamous Chambal valley, an area that is reminiscent of the Wild West Era with gunfights, murders and general lawlessness. His intention behind taking up the job was to understand the grassroots of rural Indian economy first hand by embedding himself in that environment. A finance professional driven by an incredible passion to understand the reality of the world through his professional lens and a deep commitment to applying that knowledge to help people. That’s him! (FYI, I don’t use the world ‘incredible’ loosely, it’s a powerful adjective reserved for selected things and selected people that are absolutely worthy).
In addition to his responsibilities as a prep cook, within a short time he started taking the role of a cook, worked at the front of the house, helped the management by improving operations and supported his co-workers, often acting as the bridge between the staff and the management. After 5 months, his income didn’t change: minimum wage paid on an hourly basis + meager tips at a quick service restaurant, but his outlook towards life did change. He also incurred a back injury during this time, from which he is still recovering; and burn marks on his arm from spilling hot oil, tattoo-ing the memory of that experience. Through this experience he came to the realization that the environment plays a huge role in how an individual sees themself and their capabilities with respect to the rest of the world. For someone at the lower rung of the economic ladder, it’s even more difficult to escape their hardships, not only due to limited opportunities, but also because of how difficult it is to reflect on one’s own potential when survival is the primary concern. My husband’s everyday struggles had kept him so occupied that he had no bandwidth to reflect on the vision he had made for his life. He didn’t have the time to stop and think about ‘his potential’ in changing the state of his life, and also ascertained that to be moving up and having a better life is as much a luxury as it is a challenge. Shortly after he learnt this invaluable lesson, he zoomed out to remind himself to look at the larger picture of his life and made his way back into the finance world. He had come back with a new found gratitude for what he had and deeper compassion to help others.
The new job was a perfect fit in all respects, it was a Fintech start-up with a culture and values in alignment with his own, as well as a profile that would expedite his learning at understanding a common man’s comprehension of finance. The last one was particularly important to him as he has always believed that he could help improve people’s lives by helping them avoid common financial mistakes that lead to unnecessary strife. During this time, he also took the initiative to hold a finance 101 with some of my colleagues to help them develop a sound conceptual understanding of money and investments. From January 2020-June 2020, I watched him slog more than 12 hours a day and yet feel fulfilled with his work. It looked like he was on the path that would eventually lead him to where he wanted to go, but the unfortunate circumstances led to his contract not being renewed beyond June, a time when COVID made the job market really harsh. For the 4 months and 9 days that have followed, he has applied to numerous jobs, made plans of doing an MBA, and mourned the loss of his job as a newcomer in the Canadian financial market. For the past 3.5 weeks, he has been experiencing difficulty sleeping and breathing, which mostly seems stress induced according to us and the doctors, but his symptoms are still being investigated. As I watched him finally sleep after 60 hours of insomnia, I couldn’t help but think about his prior realization about circumstances taking over one’s ability to see their own abilities clearly.
While my husband is deeply saddened and struggling to shake the feeling that his professional journey is back to where he started a year ago, I like to remind him that that’s not true in my eyes. The unique experiences and learnings driven purely by his grit shouldn’t be marred by a tiny blimp in the road. His resilience and the ability to find meaning has given him a unique perspective in life. Besides, no one else should decide what 1 year of worth’s should look like except him! This is an ode to the wonderful man I love and respect, as well as a shout out to anyone who is failing to see their own potential due to their current circumstances. A path finder like my wonderful husband is failing to see his own achievements right now, but I have full conviction that he can stand up again and find his way back to get to where he wants to go. I believe that he has the strength within him to see things clearly eventually.
My point in sharing this story isn’t to get sympathy or ‘best wishes’ (although if you want to send some good mojo our way it’s always welcomed!), but merely to point to the fact that it isn’t the end of this part of the story yet. I’m writing this to spread hope to anyone going through a tough time right now. In times of struggle you may forget your accomplishments and potential, so it is important to remind yourself of your successes. Keep your eye on your goals, keep charging ahead while being kind to yourself. I acknowledge that it isn’t easy, especially in the time of adversity like the present. It takes immense strength, will-power and a robust support system for anyone to do so. I also acknowledge that life happens, hence the vision of a desired future must be re-evaluated and adjusted as circumstances evolve. I’m not undermining any of that, rather I’m encouraging anyone reading this to find that strength within themselves to keep trying their best every day and charge on headstrong. If you are reading this and can relate to this, I’m sending some good mojo your way and hope that you find your way back.
Remember what you are capable of and don’t let your arduous journey change who you want to be!